Swine flu could be FluMist's moment

Swine flu could be MedImmune's watershed moment. The company says it's gearing up to produce about five times as much H1N1 flu vaccine as it had expected, the New York Times reports. With conventional vaccine makers slow out of the gate because of initial antigen-yield problems, MedImmune's FluMist might be able to leapfrog ahead. Already, MedImmune--now owned by AstraZeneca--has produced 12 million doses of its version of the vaccine, compared with 8 million from the other four vaccine makers, combined.

There's a problem, though: Production has outstripped availability of the nasal-spray devices used to deliver the vaccine. Company officials told the Times that they "are sitting on a surplus of potentially 150 million bulk doses," with only 40 million of the spray devices in the pipeline between now and March. And CEO David Brennan told Forbes he wants to boost the number of doses to 200 million. The device supplier, BD, says its pumping up production to increase capacity to 70 million annually, up from 20 million now. But that's still less than half the surplus doses.

The solution may be droppers, which were used in some early FluMist trials. So AstraZeneca is hoping to get FDA approval for that mode of administration. Meanwhile, the company is asking for approval in other countries, and it's talking to the WHO about supplying FluMist to developing nations.

Problem No. 2 is the fact that the U.S. government has only ordered 12.8 million doses. Competing vaccine makers are solving their production problems, so MedImmune won't have the opportunity to step into a void. However, U.S. officials told the Times that the availability of FluMist could induce the government to expand its supply. And with the Lancet criticizing the U.S. for electing not to use adjuvant to stretch the vaccine supply--meaning that fewer doses will be available for other countries--the extra FluMist could come in handy. 

- read the Times article
- get more from Forbes
- check out the Lancet story from Bloomberg